Shut eye

I woke up at 3PM and knew I had to deactivate my Facebook account. I realized it's been taking much of my routine. So I brought the Martin Amis novel I've been reading last night, Night Train, and for about two hours on the sofa downstairs, slouching and eating peanut butter and jam on bread. Then I made some spinach salad, and fried some ham for dinner. My body is aching for some biking around the village but it rained around 5PM so I relaxed a bit and stretched my legs on my father's rocking chair and I sat there for twenty minutes, thinking. I've been gardening these past few weeks, by the way, and I've been doing some composting, taking care of my rambutan and tomato saplings. (My onion sapling died last Monday.) I fed the stray cat and her young with leftover fried fish. Then I saw this really huge dragonfly (as big as the palm of a six year-old), and I took pictures of it. Now I'm noticing that I'm calm and not willing to talk that much, to the point that maybe my colleagues are wondering why I'm not that lively today, but really, I've never been so much calm in my life.

Like liquid, like a song


Perhaps what I've been expecting from Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? is the same aura I've enjoyed in her works during my college workshops: that simplicity I gathered from some of her stories from Self-Help. Narrated in the first-person by a thirty-something Berie, in France with her husband, she starts with a promising narration: "In Paris we eat brains every night. My husband likes the vaporous, fishy mousse of them." This made me look forward to reading it for a few afternoons, basking along the stretches of a surrealist dream with frogs and brains. A portrait painted by one of the characters, Sils, the narrator's bestfriend during their teenage heydays at Horsehearts, is on the first page of the book. Add to that the charm of Paris, and the title which made me buy it at Booksale.

In the opening paragraph, Berie eats the brains "for the flashback." This rings true with the entire story: the bulk of it is flashback, and they are spread over the state-of-things, the actual plot in Paris, with her marriage with Daniel.

In the story, Paris is the footnote, and the reader is hurled into a coming-of-age novel (or, arguably, a novella) in which memory becomes a proper foreground for the marital crisis of Berie and her husband, Daniel. Moore makes her words simple in narrating an otherwise troublesome childhood in Horsehearts, an upstate New York-Quebec setting (Berie's name is Benoite-Marie, and Sils' last name is Chaussee) and its centerpiece, Storyland, a theme park both Berie and Sils worked for a full summer. Sils is Cinderella, and Berie, in a pinafore and a funny hat, is at the cash register. There we find the roller-coaster narrative of childhood and how people come off it as somebody else: with a looming pregnancy for Sils, and with a throng of insecurities for Berie.

"My childhood had no narrative; it was all just a combination of air and no air: waiting for life to happen, the body to get big, the mind to grow fearless. There were no stories, no ideas, not really, not yet. Just help the mind to get around. At the time, however, it was liquid, like a song--nothing much. It was just a space with some people in it. But one can tell a story anyway." This, I think, is Moore's style in a gist. Readers might think her narration is sloppy--it stutters, it rhymes without making sense, and it is but fragments bound by the spine of a book, but I think it's charming. I think of it as a wall with some cement coming off to reveal red bricks, and in many ways the book is successful in depicting the narrator, Berie, in her most revealing: anxious, nostalgic, with the discontent of someone who left things without looking back.

At the latter parts of the book, some thirty pages before it ends, Berie comes back to Horsehearts. In one of those High School reunions she meets Randi, one of her friends in Storyland, and Randi's name tag says Travis with the name Randi in parenthesis underneath. Berie comments: "(Could one do that? Could one put one's whole past, the fact of its boring turbulence, in parenthesis like that?)" The ending struggles to make sense of the deaths almost always in parentheses, in both ways concealing and obvious, jutting out of the page. At one point, Berie goes back to her meeting her step-sister, La Roue, after ten years. She didn't like her very much: this is the socially awkward step-sister who, within ten years, had groomed fillies at a racetrack and did part-time janitor stint at a restaurant. Yet, during the meeting, La Roue warmly received her, treating her to lunch.

This makes me think that if anything, Berie--and not Sils or Randi or La Roue--has this separation anxiety which hovered around the entire novella. Berie takes note of it all: recalling everything down to the fact that La Roue committed suicide by hanging herself in the country hospital psychiatric ward.

Berie ached to finish the story, putting the death of her father in parenthesis.

In the end, she did have that "musical moment" her grandmother Carr described to her after "much turmoil in her life." It is clear to Berie that the marriage is falling apart, or about to, and is made explicit in the novel-length nostalgia pitted against Paris and her husband, Daniel. In the hospital bed, Daniel said, "it's like I'm on a ride... I go up, up, and up, and then wheeeee." Benoite said something the entire story had itched for: "Except then the keys fall out of your pocket... [a]nd then you can't get back into the house."

The World, The World

I am not very productive these days. I have been trying to finish a book review, a story, and in the middle of these are problems arising everywhere: from text messages to a confidant who happened to have problems as well. An officemate told me it's best to do monologues in these times, the way my father does as he climbs his way up to sixty. I hate to say this but at this point in my life, I do have a black garbage bag on my chest.  It's not that heavy, but it drips something foul-smelling. In a bus I thought of writing a story about dealing with a punishment which costs a character to live a year of his life on repeat. That would be 365 days, from the moment he arrives at the bus stop in the morning up to the point where he/she thinks about this puppy he/she used to own, which he/she fondly calls Lucky, who has this penchant of watching fireworks at New Year's Eve when every other dog had been trying to squish themselves in corners. I tried thinking of what my character will do in 365 days when the two of us, the character and I, would realize that the next day is just the same. Then I asked myself what kind of escape is that, when everyone is on to something to dominate the world, like buying this island or doing memes? In my dream I was with an officemate and I did some pole-vaulting tricks and used the same pole as a javelin to kill people in such bloodless but violent ways. My officemate owned a shotgun of some sort, and we were killing people. I feel like I'm writing like a sixteen year-old again, naming a blog something like "the rants and raves of a sixteen year-old", trying to think of college and all that stuff like dorms and independence and chatmates from Cavite whom I've promised to treat to Beard Papa (which I have never heard of back then). Later, I will be reading another problem in the form of an e-mail, and if I could only enumerate each of these problems and send the list to people whom I am indebted to meet, serve, or talk to, I hope they will understand and tell me, sure, some other time. But of course, they'll say I'm ridiculous, everybody has problems. If there's one thing I lack in life, it's the part where I have this confidant/e to talk to and tell him/her about everything, and maybe if I feel like I'm in a movie I'll be treating him/her to a beer, but I don't like beer. I'm craving for a Goldilocks chocolate roll. I'm gregarious, sure, I can pitch in a joke or two even when I'm this close to thinking about, if not suicide, then at least non-productivity, chaos (tossing books, throwing them outside the window), absences in the form of calls from my boss or a knock on the door and my sixty year-old father would tell me, what now? Well, I would say, and thank the movies for these kinds of scenes it has ingrained these lines in my mind: I don't know, I don't know. My father has been buying books about adventure, about the great outdoors, and yesterday he bought another one entitled The World, The World, and it was such a good title I think one should say this like a mantra in the morning, or a sort of a prayer. So today, I have ten problems all at the same time, and I should say, the world, the world.

Exits

All this is making me dream for more writing, but I just couldn't find the time to write. I want a four-day job. I'm craving for some peanut brittle and a good sleep with my girlfriend. At age 40, I might have a serious case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I've been telling myself to stay in this job for five years. When I applied and thought I could earn for a Leica, I initially hoped for two years. There is a trip to Thailand with my girlfriend and my workmates this January. Other than that, my extremist self is wishing for war, to clear out the hullabaloo. I imagine it the way a Physics teacher dares to remove a thin white linen sheet on a table in front of an auditorium, like the ones when I was in college. The teacher should do it as fast as he can. There is a porcelain piggy bank at the center of the table and the audience is watching. War, just like that. Then--and this is just wishful and theoretical thinking, like a what-if cloud which, in a story unlikely to be published, will occupy the entire story--there would be lots of killings, and all of us would be motivated to do something good for the country. I know when I reach the bottom of this I want to be a city planner. I guess everything in my stories is the reflection of my dream to be a city planner. I want the entire Philippines to be a blank slate and Manila will become, sadly, a very organized city. There. I'll wait for the bombing.

Triptych for the floods



From top to bottom: Paul Signac's Leaving the Port of Saint-Tropez; Kay Sage's Le Passage; and Yves Tanguy's Multiplication of the Arcs

Hordes

The only respite I thought of yesterday morning after my night-shift job was my college apartment. Our house in Bulacan, though unscathed from the rains, isn't a good option: the routes are either flooded or to be flooded. (Later that day, my father would text me that they're having a brownout and though the house is relatively dry, they're having a hard time dealing with the remaining water supply).

While having a breakfast at McDonald's--the Crispy Chicken Burger which I scorned all throughout the meal, having thought of it as nothing but beef gunk, mayonnaise patted only on one side of the sandwich (it created this half-moon)--Chee told me it isn't a good idea to go home. My girlfriend and I found ourselves considering Los Banos, which we hastily did with a taxi and another bill of Php150. I've never liked taxis or the rates they employ, but in those times where we just wanted to get out of Manila, it's the most reasonable amount to pay for.

Oh, good lord. Just by the sight of the Fiesta Deli in Agapita--a kind of a Room of Requirement novelty store which sells just about anything, when you need it (last week's Chicken Samosa, this week's Chorizo, etc.)--I had this really good feeling in my chest, the way writers write about coming back to where I came from. I did grew up in Los Banos for five years, and it formed me. It was the subject of (over)sentimentality, of (and this is Lacan's) going back to plenitude, to paradise.

I ate lunch with my girlfriend at the carinderia where I almost always eat my meals during college, and for Php115 we had two bowls of nilaga and three cups of rice and a fried chicken and shanghai, plus chilled rambutan for dessert (for free). The turon vendor near the provenan (where they sell deep-fried chicken proventriculus) asked us to sit for a while. We bought some avocados across the street (Php20 a kilo), then bought some cheap rambutan in the talipapa just by Raymundo Gate. I recognized a few faces: a cousin, an old friend, an old professor, but the rest of the faces I longed to meet have graduated last year, too, and Los Banos was just another place, like a portrait on the wall we've been wanting to get in a la Blue's Clues.

We ended at Robinson's and hoarded groceries. Everybody else did.

Ancestral house

There was this video recorded during the '90s and it was near the ancestral house at Pulong Buhangin. It featured my sisters as kids and they were having this rough boxing match of some sort. All of my relatives were watching. I was there, too, and thought of it as ridiculous seeing my sisters fight in their nine-year-old selves, since I've never seen them as younger, thanks to the twenty-year-old gap we've always had.

There was also this scene where I was crying in our red Volkswagen (coloquially called as Kotseng Kuba or the hunchback car) while we were driving through the roads to the ancestral house, complete with the rice paddies and the forked roads.

After these scenes was a comic, although disjunct, ending: I found myself in a food competition eating kimchi and sushi with Anthony Bourdain and other people. It disappointed me since I was looking forward for never-heard-of cuisines like Magyar or Nubian.